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The Unseen: 'Exorcist III' Still Scares the Hell Out of Me!

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the exorcist iiiOur pumpkins are carved, the bags of mini Milky Way bars are ready for distribution, and my yard is covered with that horrible fake spider webbing that sticks to everything except the damn shrubs. Yup, it is Halloween. For this week’s Unseen inclusion, I wanted to give everyone a good scare! I debated a few titles like Messiah of Evil and The Changling, but I ultimately decided on Exorcist 3 (meaning I’ll cover the other two titles at a later date). Why Exorcist 3? This film may not be on every horror fan’s radar, but it is frighteningly freaky and an excellent choice for a Halloween viewing. A lot of people disregard sequels with a “lesser than” ideal that film franchises must get worse the further they travel away from the original source. Sure the original Amityville is great, but by the time you get to part 7, it has lost that original flare, right? This certainly is the case with a number of franchises. But there are always stand alones that are just really f’n good! And one of the most notable and yet forgotten is Exorcist 3. It is also scary as hell!

Exorcist 3 is for the most part a stand alone movie. It is not quite as far off the franchise path as say Halloween 3, but the film only has a small connection to the first movie. The biggest link is William Peter Blatty who penned the original and also wrote and directed this one.  The plot focuses on a detective (played expertly by George C. Scott) who is investigating a string of vicious murders that all seem to center around a hospital. The gruesome killings include trademarks of a serial killer who died years prior. Slowly the detective realizes that the killer (played by Brad Douriff) has possessed the body of a catatonic and is using the elderly hospital patients suffering from dementia to carry out his vicious blood lust. There are a few elements at work here that make this movie incredibly scary. First, it largely takes place in a psych ward, a freaky place begin with. Second, the murderers are gory with very disturbing methodology and tactics. Third and most importantly, the murders are the elderly. No one ever thinks about how creepy old folks can be. Horror films always tend toward the scary kids or creepy teens motifs. But this film proves that old folks, especially when suffering from dementia and other mental maladies, can be downright terrifying. I also have to give some major accolades to the writing on this one. Blatty not only proves his directing chops, but his writing is spot on, even funny at times. 

Plot and script aside, Exorcist 3 has always been riddled with drama. The script is an adaptation of Blatty’s novel Legion. Morgan Creek came on to produce and, at one time, John Carpenter was even rumored to be directing.  Carpenter supposedly backed out when he learn how much Blatty wanted to direct this one himself. But Blatty was soon battling Morgan Creek over multiple issues, specifically how the sequel should link to the original, or if it even should. Morgan Creek wanted Regan back in (possibly focusing the plot on her children) closely adhering to charcters established in the 1973 film. Blatty saw this as a separate story (because the original was) with just minor links to the original piece. In the end, Morgan Creek demanded that there at least had to be an “exorcism” scene. They ended up inserting one in post. Not surprising, the wedged in exorcist scene comes out of nowhere and feels very clunky, breaking down the moody tone of the rest of the movie. Additionally, Morgan Creek edited many of Blatty’s scenes out of the final release, and when they were later asked about possibly restoring the cut scenes, they claimed all the unused footage had been lost.  A quick Internet search shows multiple “fan edits” online that have taken this scene out. It is rumored that there are also roving bootlegs of a “director’s cut” made by Blatty leaving out exorcism sequence, though I have never seen a copy. 

Blatty knew that a link to the prior Exorcist films would only hurt the film’s release and put it into “sequel syndrome” where people expect it to pick up right where prior films left off. Exorcist 3 is exactly a sequel. It is pretty much a stand-alone film, and a damn good one! He begged the executives not to give it a title linking it to the prior film (especially considering the poor critical response to part 2), but he was vetoed and Exorcist 3 was released to theatres in August of 1990 (a few months earlier than originally planned in an attempt to beat the exorcism comedy Repossessed). The film got mixed reviews from critics on this initial release. Many were put off by the fact that it had so little to do with the first film, and came expecting to see an all grown-up Linda Blair still battling her demons. Even I fell into the sequel trap with this one. I first saw Exorcist 3 in my teens, and I remember being miffed by the lack of Regan and her head rotating antics. Thus I forgot about the film until two decades later when I re-watched it and discovered not only is it just as well-written as the first one; it also is tremendously freaky. 

Like my own experience, over time something has happened with Exorcist 3. People became more accepting of the fact that it is not clearly sequential with the other Exorcist flicks and began paying more attention to the stellar plot, writing, and remarkable jump scares. Like Halloween 3, Exorcist 3 is slowly rising from the ashes and gaining respect in its own right. So dim the lights, grab your bucket of Halloween candy, and get ready for some scary old folks! Happy Halloween! 

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